“The Lord be with you.”
“And also with you.”
This is a common way to get the attention of a crowd in the Episcopal Church. You will often hear this shouted over a chatty group gathered for a parish dinner or a rambunctious herd of young people gathered for formation.
While not technically a crowd-control tactic, this salutation is used because it is familiar. It is familiar because it is the way we begin our prayers in the Anglican tradition.
I was taught that if you are to use this salutation to gather attention you should, at the very least, say a pray for the gathered community.
Why do we start things with prayer?
Meals, meetings, liturgies - when we come together we feel the urge to call upon God and to thank God for bringing us safely into fellowship with one another. I will sometimes hear opening prayers that ask God to be present with the gathering as though God is not already present in every situation. In fact, God is more present than we are in most situations.
I had a professor in seminary who insisted that opening prayers wait until the purpose of the meeting or gathering has been outlined. “Otherwise, you don’t know what you are praying for.”, he would grumble.
The humor masks a deep truth. When we pray at the beginning of a journey or event, we are not saying a generic prayer because we are supposed to. We are asking God to open our eyes to the Divine interruptions and interjections along our journey. We are asking God to help us see the world in a new way. We are asking to have the Spirit of Christ in what we are doing.
“Unless the Lord builds the house, their labor is in vain who build it.” (Psalm 127:1)
As we move further along on the journey towards being the missional church, it is important to reflect on the place of prayer in mission. The role of prayer in the life of Christians and the Church is essential and yet often is assumed and not discussed.
Prayer is essential for mission because we are joining a work already in progress, not beginning a new enterprise. We are joining God’s mission to redeem the world through Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. We are not building a new kingdom of our own. Prayer is the prerequisite to mission.
Prayer is the time we set aside to seek God’s will and to give thanks for what God has already done in our lives. Prayer is deeply personal and, at the same time, it is the lifeblood of a worshipping community.
We are the Church because we pray together.
Nobody needs another thing to do. Our culture is so focused on productivity and to-do lists that “busy” is the default answer for the passing, “How are you doing?”
The Church is not immune from this cultural shift. We are constantly looking for new programs or series or plans. Every church in our Diocese has a full calendar of wonderful and fulfilling activities.
I am not adding another thing to your to-do list.
Instead, I am suggesting that we begin with prayer. Not as another item on the list but as the means to accomplish the list itself. Prayer is not the mission of God, but it is the only way to engage and join with God’s ongoing mission in the world.
If we are to be clothed in the Spirit of Christ to serve the world in His name, we must do what Christ did: we must always start with prayer.
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on
the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within
the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit
that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those
who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for
the honor of your Name. Amen.
This post was written by the Rev. Canon Connor B. Gwin. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.